Monday, December 29, 2008
I decided to keep a cycling log for the duration of 2008. I had a log in 2007 but didn't bother too much with it. This year, I kept track of every outing just because I wanted to be able to look back on the year and see how it turned out. The miles break out like this: 1846.9 miles of commuting, 284.4 miles of errands and 2871.9 miles of pure recreation. I rode the Rivendell A Homer Hilsen the most for 2683.1 miles, then the Gunnar Street Dog (46x17) for 1539.3 miles, then the Poprad townie bike 775.8 miles and the Motobecane (gone to a better home) 5 miles. So what does this mean? Looking back, I don't actually see much value in reading too deeply into the numbers, but on some level I'm happy that I can almost quantify the year's fun. I had a lot of great rides this year.
I think the year is better understood by a couple of themes:
- Commuting by bike is terrific in so many ways, chiefly in that it gives me a good chunk of time each day to get outside and play. Aside from the fun factor, it helps me feel great mentally and physically every day. The environmental benefit is nice too.
- Cycling can be good for a relationship. Mrs. Wheelie joined me for several outings. We raised a bunch of money on the PMC charity ride. It was great. I hope she stays with it. I got her a useful handlebar bag, a comfortable saddle and some nice wheels. Little things make a difference.
- I tried randonneuring this year with the Boston Brevet Series. Yes, riding 400km in a day is very difficult, and yet I'd love to try 600km. Getting involved in organized distance rides (not races) motivated me to get out and ride regularly. Brevets are tons of fun. The rides draw my kind of people, an altogether fantastic collection of like-minded cyclists. The D2R2 was my favorite brevet.
- Having a handful of bikes is the way to go. In 2007 I was down to 1 bike at some point, and that was fine and simple. Now there are 3 bikes, and I really enjoy the variety. Sometimes riding fixed is good, sometimes cruising on a townie bike is good, sometimes a touring bike is good. I started getting into trail riding, mainly because I moved to a less urban area with trails and because dirt road events like D2R2 helped me to branch out a little more. The A. Homer Hilsen was great for everything: roads, trails, etc; it's my favorite and feels special every time. That explains why the AHH got so many miles. I'll probably add a mountain bike to the collection soon.
- I like to tinker. I've always liked fixing things and working with my hands. Working on bicycles is fulfilling in many ways. If I had to choose between tinkering and riding I would choose riding, but I would still miss the wrench. Luckily that's not a choice I must make. There are many projects kicking around in my head. I'm on the 3rd or so iteration of the Poprad, the fixed-gear needs an overhaul, the Rivendell is in need of maintenance. The new house is almost ready, and I can't wait to set up the workshop in the basement so I can get started.
- Blogging is fun. I'm not sure if I'll keep it up long-term, but it was nice to reflect on some rides and bike thoughts and do a little writing. There is nothing as thrilling as getting a comment from some new reader. I only got a handful, but each was special. I'm addicted to reading blogs too. Leaving comments is fun.
- I try to bring a camera when I go out. Either the iphone or a point-and-shoot camera will do. Just as long as I have something handy when I see something special. I'm still hoping to get a photo of the guy who rides a Vespa with a large dog on his lap; it's impressive. Also, blogs are better with pictures.
- This last point is huge and important: I will ride a bike as long as it is fun. I was on a club ride recently when someone mentioned that it was "time to go to work." I think he meant that our group was spending too much time socializing and not enough time suffering. This comment struck me (and everyone else) as crazy; cycling should never be "work". Cycling should always be firmly in the "play" category. Ironically, I may have to work hard to make sure that cycling is never too serious. The whole concept of a ride log is somewhat counter productive in this regard. Additionally, I hope never to get an indoor trainer rig. On the fun side, I've been having a good time with simple platform pedals and unplanned exploration rides lately. Yes, these are the important things.
That's about it for this year. Hopefully 2009 will bring peace, good health, good fortune and more another bike-ish year.
Monday, December 22, 2008
I've been extra good this year. I got a snowstorm for Christmas, a really good one. It snowed almost continuously for the last three days, and there is plenty of snow to show for it. I xc skied three of the last three days, and it's only the second day of winter. What a start to the season. Yes indeed, lucky me.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
New England living is really all about making the seasons work for you. Lots of folks complain about winter and rain, and that's just sad and sort of pathetic. Yeah, I do it too, but I don't ever remember an improvement in weather that resulted from my grumbling about the cold. Sure, winter can seem drawn out at times, but that just means more time for activities that aren't possible during most of the year - snowshoeing, skiing, etc. Winter is a treat for me. Is there anything better than cross country skiing out your door and into the woods? Cold rain is a little more difficult, but that's why they invented things like Gortex and fenders. Bad weather is just a nice excuse to acquire more nifty gear. Lucky me.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
Sunday, November 2, 2008
There is surprisingly little campaign rhetoric with regard to cycling. Obama does explicitly encourage cycling as a component of green transportation and as a part of the effort to make sprawling cities more livable. McCain doesn't have a defined position on alternative transportation that I can find. I suppose he would have to support greener modes of transportation because it is essential to political good standing these days. At the end of the day who knows what a candidates' words actually mean because they say quite a few things that don't necessarily mean much at all. I'll just see who walks the walk, or whatever the pedaling equivalent is.
Here we see Barack Obama riding about on an ordinary urban-terrain Trek. He's wearing a helmet for safety, setting a good example. That inflatable rear fender is quite tacky. How can this carnival-clown accessory be better than a simple plastic jobbie for keeping the road stuff off the rider and bike? I really hope inflatable fenders don't catch on with the "American people." The important aspect of this photo is that he's sporting the typical casual cyclist get-up. I have to admit that he looks a bit odd in casual street clothing, but I appreciate that he's serving as an example of a normal person wearing normal clothes using a bicycle as transportation. I assume he's going somewhere and not just posing, though a set of panniers or a backpack would make this scenario more credible. In any case, I'm glad that he's not pushing the lycra spandex racer mode; there are few people that can validate that ideal.
The McCain cycling material is limited. This is the only evidence I could find. Yep that's real. Isn't it? I doubt anyone will see McCain rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue on a high-wheel while wearing knickers, but the generation gap is certainly clear. To be fair, it does speak to my retro-grouch sensibility. There is a certain nostalgia in it. Is McCain the nostalgia candidate?
Obama and McCain are clearly coming from different velosophies. I see it as a trade-off between practically and Sunday-style amusement. That's my superficial review.
Let's see what the other president's ride.
George W. Bush. There many pictures of W riding his mountain bike. Sources say he is an avid cyclist. Maybe that's how he's spending his time. If he weren't the chief executive with his questionable record, he could be a decent advocate for the sport. I'd venture to say that he cycles more than the average president, but that is easily overshadowed by everything he did and didn't do in the last 8 years. He sort of looks like a bike cop, doesn't he?
Bill Clinton. Looks like these rigs are good cobweb support in the garage - the sort of bike that someone sells on Craigslist with the tag "vintage," which really means a crappy 1980's department store bike that has been neglected for a decade or more. Rumor has it that he was 22 before he learned to ride a bicycle.
George H.W. Bush pictured here as the quintessential gentleman cyclist . . . in China. I've never cycled in a sport coat, but I'd like to try it some day. What's in the basket? This reminds me of my one and only presidential siting. I was riding up near Kennebunkport Maine last September. A white convertible Ford Thunderbird (new style) passed me. As they went by, I saw a tall elderly man in the driver seat and a short woman with white bushy hair riding beside him. The license plate had a presidential seal on it. Suspecting it was who I thought it was, I tried to catch up. They were driving well below the speed limit, perhaps in an effort to be civic-minded. I almost caught up, but I wasn't quite quick enough. It was definitely them.
Ronald Reagon on/with/near a bicycle? Still working on that.
Jimmy Carter has good taste in bicycles. He's been known to ride a custom color Rivendell Atlantis. His is one of a pair built for the Carters by Joe Stark, a well regarded craftsman. This particular bike has a little controversy attached to it and it's a good story if you are at all interested in underworld of the handmade bike industry. Of all the presidents, Carter seems to look the most natural on a bike. Maybe he's just happy he has a sweet Rivendell.
Even though Sarah Palin is not president or directly in line for the job, I couldn't pass this up. When I think of a bike, it's probably something like what Mr. Carter has. Not everyone has the same idea.
Remember to vote.
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Monday, October 20, 2008
Some things are more important than bikes and all of the ridiculousness I spend way too much time thinking about. The election is one of them. Thank you Colin Powell for boiling the current political situation down into some sensible and direct reasoning.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
The snazzy new cyclocross rubber inspired me to seek out some dirt today. The Middlesex Fells is an excellent spot to find trails, lot of trails, a short ride away. Fortunately, FellsBiker.com has tons of information to help me decide where to get started. The little map below is from their website. I selected the most obviously appropriate path, "Mountain Bike Loop." It makes a nice 6 mile curcuit around the reservoir. The trail is manageable in most places on my touring-cross-ish bike. Though there were frequent rock gardens which gave me a little wrist-rattling and occasional walks. I'm unsure if these trickier parts were part of the actual loop or if I had gone off course. This is mainly because I was navigating by a vague recollection of the map I had forgotten to bring with me. That complication aside, the riding was great, especially once I got comfortable enough with the feel of the trails to let the wheels take their course.
Friday, October 17, 2008
When it comes to tires, the A Homer Hilsen is a swiss army knife. It can run a huge variety, from skinny road tires to burly cross tires. A fender usually fits too. Most people already know this about the bike because the Rivendell website talks about it plenty. I've run a variety of tires on the AHH in the last several months, and here is my assessment.
The Grand Bois Cypres 700x30. Reading anything related to Bicycle Quarterly gives you the impression that these are amazing tires. It isn't a surprise they sell them for $55 a tire, probably the most expensive tire I'd buy by a good margin. I had to see what the fuss was about, so I ordered a set. I mounted them for the recent Great River Ride and a few rides during the week, so maybe 150 miles total. I admit that they are excellent. As advertised, they roll fast and soak up bumps. Cornering is great. In these categories they are at least as good as the Rivendell Jack Browns I used for a long time. Though if they are in fact better, the difference is slim. The one thing that bugs me about the Grand Bois is that they are fairly insubstantial and reputedly not flat-resistant. I haven't had any flats yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if I did, and their lightness does not inspire me to seek out trashy surfaces. That said, they still perform well. I wouldn't say that they are life changing, but if you want some nice mid-width comfy tires for brevets or long fast rides, these are a great option especially considering that there aren't many high-quality 700x30+ slicks out there.
Ritchey Speedmax Cross Comp 700x40. Big fat cyclocross tires. Actually, they are too fat to be UCI legal ( limit 700x35), but I'm not racing anytime soon, so who cares. I enjoyed the fast and grippy 700x32 version of this tire, but I needed a little more volume for cushioning. The 700x40 is the fattest 700c tire I could find. Like the other Ritchey Speedmax tires, they balance speed and traction well. The AHH fits the 700x40 with room to spare. Clearance with a fender looks adequate but not ample, and I didn't bother with them. The Ritcheys are ideal all-around tires for roads and trails, great at everything while not superior at anything. The only improvement I could make on this tire is having it in a foldable version, but the wire bead is not difficult to mount and it's just fine.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Starting out, it was about 40F and I was grateful for my layers of warm weather gear. The hills began almost immediately and climbed on for a few miles. By the first check point at mile 22, I caught up with dispersed groups of riders. I road with Jake, who I met during the Boston Brevets, for a long while. We discussed some of recent bike tinkering projects; if only I had a decent machine shop. At or around the second checkpoint, I bumped into Paul who I met and rode with in the recent D2R2. This time around he was on his super stiff Ti racer instead of the day-glo orange Kona mountain bike. We kept up our pace and conversion through the next 50 or so miles of hills. The most notable climb of the middle portion of the Great River Ride was the East River Hill at mile 64. It started inconspicuously like any other hill and then transitioned into an endless and perfectly linear slog. It was so straight and featureless that it was difficult to judge progress on the hill by any means other than counting the telephone poles we passed. We thought there were 50. Baked potatoes were a welcomed snack at the following checkpoint. By this point, the air was warm and the sun was shining - perfect fall weather. Leaving the relaxing potato stop was hard, but the rest of the ride was worth getting to. Most notable is Jacob's Ladder starting at mile 82. From what I can tell it get's its name from the sequence of hills connected by short flat stretches that more or less make steps going up and up and up. Thankfully we were going down, not up. The Ladder continues for 5 miles. It's an exciting ride all the way down with excellent views of the valleys. We pedalled through the flats to keep our speed and very quickly found ourselves with just a few miles to go..
We finished the 108 miles happily and without any mechanical issues aside from my squeaky chain. Not the fastest time (7hours 40minutes) of the day - there some impressively fast riders ahead of us. But we pedalled quickly enough to have fun while enjoying the stops and the fall day. The Great River Ride lives up to its name. The sun and unusually vibrant foliage were front and center. It was also great to see some familiar faces and get in some spectacular late season riding. The grand buffet at the end was nice too. I'll definitely be back for it next year.
On a slightly related note... I was talking to the ride organizer (Don?) about some of the Westfield events and how much I enjoyed the D2R2. He mentioned that he is putting together an event similar to D2R2 in 2009 that will take place in Vermont's Mad River Valley. I'm sure it will be as brutally hilly and as amazing as the original.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
The features I've been studying lately are the "Proposed multi-use" trails. These are basically old overgrown rail road beds that haven't been built up into established bike-ways yet. I hadn't heard anything about the trails from other riders and only knew of their existence through the dashed green lines on my map. Though one of my regular road routes passes on a high bridge over one of the rail lines in Weston - from there, you can clearly see a skinny single track stretching to both horizons. I resolved to some day explore the rail trails.
Saturday turned out to be the day of rail trail exploration. I set out to Concord as usual and looked for the crossing in East Acton. It wasn't easy to find, but trail looked great from where I picked it up, so I followed it. The path ran just to the side of the rotting rail road ties, sometimes crossing over the tracks to the other side for one reason or another. The surface was surprisingly smooth in parts, and difficult in others where the trail basically disappeared into the overgrown forest. I road down the middle of the rail line through a few short difficult spots. The ties are degrading into soft peat and made riding over the ties bearable where it was the only option. I abandoned the trail during a few stretches where it was completely impassable. The frequent road crossings made it pretty easy to get on and off the trail.
This section is known as the Bruce Freeman Memorial Bike Path. It runs north-south down to Sudbury. I found out after the fact that the project is underway. Sections north of where I picked up the trail are under construction - the rail bed is being dismantled, and they are beginning to build a proper pathway.
Somewhere in Wayland, I picked up the east-west Wayside Rail Trail. It turns out that this line was scheduled to be converted to a multi-use path in the 1990's. From what I gather, the town of Weston quashed the project because they generally disliked the idea of having a busy recreation path like the Minuteman Trail in their back yard. Whatever the town politics, it looks like the project is dead and the trail will remain single track which is fine for my purposes.
The Wayside trail is markedly different from the Bruce Freeman path because the Wayside line is also a corridor for electric utility lines. As a result, it's pretty open and there is a uninterrupted track presumably for utility maintenance. I didn't take pictures for comparison. In all, the trails were fun and provided an alternative method of cycling in the area. My maps tells me that the are many more miles of trail, so I suppose I'll explore those sometime soon.
Monday, September 22, 2008
Adam Kimmel presents: Claremont HD from adam kimmel on Vimeo.
This video was on another blog I read. It's a bit copy cat-ish, but I just don't care in this case because it's too insane not to actively share. I can't decide if my favorite part is when they are making faces back into the camera while passing it back and forth or when they catch up to and pass the car. I pretty sure this one goes into the pile things I think are incredible but will never ever attempt, like base-jumping or a doctoral program in math. Some parts of life are best lived vicariously.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
I arrived Friday evening in Deerfield. The campground hosting the event was actually a freshly plowed cornfield, and several tentsites had already been erected by the time I arrived. People were chatty and excited about Saturday's ride. D2R2's absurd difficulty is known, but everyone seemed excited about the prospect of 100+ miles of nothing but dirt roads and steep hills. I bumped into a few of the Boston area crowd, many familiar faces from the year's Boston Brevet Series. Like myself, most had been looking forward to D2R2 all year. After a little socializing, I set up my campsite, cooked dinner and prepped my gear for the ride.
The alarm clock went off at 4:30 Saturday morning, and I awoke to see the registration tent lit up and buzzing already. The friendly volunteers offered hot coffee and bagels while checking in the riders. I set about my usual routine. Within no time, it was 6 AM and we set off. The start was energized. Most riders spread out, well warned that pacing is important in such a grueling event. A pack of roadies shot off ahead quickly; I never saw most of them again, so we can assume that a road racing bike with narrow slicks can in fact complete the course. I chose to ride my Rivendell A. Homer Hilsen with a triple gearing and Ritchey Speedmax cyclocross tires (700x32) with fenders. Aside, fenders were not necessary given the dry spell, but I left them on anyway - yay AHH tire clearance! Lots of people were riding cyclocross bikes or something similar, which made a ton of sense given the terrain and distance.
D2R2 is divided into four stages as marked by checkpoints. Every stage is a whopper; even the last section of 13 miles is tough on an empty tank. In all, it's 15,670 ft of climbing over 111.8 miles. The cue sheet is a phenomenal document with comments like "almost no flat road until three miles from the checkpoint," "turn at pole onto jeep track, " "road becomes unmaintained and washed out", "27% grade" and "ignore road closed sign". The word "hill" appears 36 times.
Section 1 is the "warm up" of 35.9 miles and 5750 ft of climbing. During these initial miles, the reality of D2R2 starts to set in. Though the main event is really the second and third stages from which cover the next 63 miles. I was lucky enough to find a couple of like-minded riders, and we stuck together for the rest of the day. We eventually proved that the cue sheet isn't necessary if we followed a simple rule of thumb at every intersection: turn uphill. It worked every time, especially at the big hills. The fabled 27% grade hill was a hoot. It's steep enough that I immediately used the tiniest gear and stood on it, but the unweighted rear tire lost traction, even with cross tires. We walked that hill, and so did everyone else except for a few mountain bikers with the burliest tires. If I'd been paying more attention, I'd be able to name one remarkable descent that I remember vividly. It was almost two miles of dirt "road" winding through steep downhill curves. This was the part of the ride where I patted myself on the back for replacing my old brake pads two days before. It's the kind of descent where you hold on and hope you don't eat it because there isn't a good place to go. I bet the mountain bikes loved this part. Everyone did, even if our hands were white from gripping so tightly. In all, there were tons of hills and extraordinary views. The best description of the course is not mine, check this out if for more details.
The last checkpoint at mile 99 was a welcome and well-earned site. It was at the top of a spectacular hill following a long slow climb up Patten Road. The three of us sat for a moment sucking on watermelon. The remaining 13 miles section was pretty straightforward except for the gnarliest downhill of the day at mile 107 on some unnamed road. The washed-out trail dumped out onto a few miles of flat pavement to the finish.
The final time for the day was 9 hours 38 minutes. I was thrilled to have done it in ten hours. In fact, I was thrilled to have finished at all. The Deerfield fair across the street offered some great food for celebration, and that's pretty much how it wrapped up.
More pictures are posted here by the event organizers.
Friday, September 5, 2008
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
We moved, or are in the process of moving. I'm very pleased with my new commute. The distance is about the same, but the routes are much more interesting. There is a network of trails and walking paths in town that will make of the bulk of my ride. I haven't quite figured out what's what yet, but discovering is half the fun.
Also, I did the D2R2 on Saturday. Tons of fun, really hard. I'll post some pictures and things in a bit.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
The Battle Road is a gentle six miles of dirt trail between Concord and Lexington, but it was pretty spectacular to have it to myself early in the morning. There are few informational posting near historic landmarks. Though the better part of it is the scenery it offers through shady wooded parts lined with stone walls, a few brief boardwalk bridges over marshy spots and some short twisty stretches.
Riding on some dirt trail for the first time in a long while also allowed me to see how the bike handles the terrain that I'll be riding this weekend in the D2R2 . Sure, the D2R2 is about 20 times as long with lots of hills, but this little opener gets me excited for the main event.
Friday, August 8, 2008
I almost forgot that I lost these. I was looking for an empty locker in the office warehouse today, a place to store more junk. My old Asics were waiting patiently for me in the bottom of a locker, presumable since late 2005. I trained for my first and only marathon in these. I bought a pair of Mizuno's right before the race and immediately lost track of these. They fit just like before, perfectly. The soles are completely dead, but they are formed to my feet from an uncountable number of miles. Reunited at last.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
Sunday, August 3, 2008
Yesterday, we took part in the Pan Mass Challenge. For those who have been living under a rock or aren't from around here, the PMC an enormous bikathon to benefit cancer research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. It's a good event for a good cause. We were first timers and didn't entirely know what to expect, but it turned out to be a great day.
We chose to ride the one day route from Wellesley to Bourne. From the get-go, we met up with a few of Mrs. Wheelie's coworkers. I always enjoy riding with new people. We planned to stick together and move at a moderate pace to avoid the Lawrence Orbach's of the world and also avoid the slower tail-end of the crowd. This turned out to be a good choice for the event, but we did split up some. True to it's description, the route is a pleasant 84 miles that is basically flat. While one could speed right through it, the mood is festive and merits stopping to enjoy the scene at each rest area. Still I felt almost bad stopping every 15 or 20 miles, though it was really nice to have volunteers waiting to feed me and fill my water bottle with ice-cold Gatorade. To be honest, the riders have the easy part, the support volunteers do all of the work. Really. They serve great food, collect your bike at the end and ship it home, etc. Every time a tire flattens on the road, there is a van that rolls up and magic elves pop out and swarm the distressed bike, they instantly make it new again. If it weren't weird for the volunteers to turn the pedals too, I'm sure they would have. It makes for a pleasant day.
The PMC draws a big crowd, so it's interesting to see the different nations of the cycling world. Lot's of pro-looking roadies, bunches of garden-variety riders, and several of tandems! It appears that custom fabricator Seven is doing a good business, as is The Great Trek Bicycle-Making Company!!! What else could you expect. The fixed-gear crowd sent a delegation of one, yours truly. I was a little concerned about not meshing with the stop and start rhythm of freewheel bikes, but it wasn't an issue once the initial crowd spread out. Riding my usual 46x17 was great for a long mellow day in the saddle. If we participate next year, and there's a good chance we will, I think we'll add some helmet-top ornaments. Team Kermit zipped by a few times with green Kermit the frog totems. Several were bent in superman position - mine would have been swimming the backstroke. Entertaining and practical, especially when everyone is where the same crazy bike shirt.